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Campus Protests Escalate: Allegations of Sexual Assault Ignite Student Outcry

In a disturbing turn of events at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, students initiated a protest on October 16, 2023, against the administration's failure to establish an internal sexual harassment committee. The situation intensified on October 18 when a female student participating in the protest was reportedly sexually assaulted on campus. In response, university officials filed a police complaint on October 19, accusing 11 students of unlawful assembly outside Proctor T. Samson's quarters. Subsequently, the Osmania University police registered a First Information Report (FIR) under section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). A show-cause notice was also issued to the students HRDs on the same day. The  concerns over the safety of women at EFLU prompted Rajya Sabha MP Dr. V Sivadasan to write a letter to the National Women's Commission (NWC) on October 22, urging a thorough investigation into the sexual harassment case and addressing students' safety concerns. The NWC responded on October 23, calling for a fair and timely investigation into the sexual assault incident. The commission demanded a report from the Telangana Director General of Police by October 30, 2023, emphasizing the need for a prompt investigation, medical support, and a detailed report. Adding to the controversy, on October 31, 2023, Osmania University police registered another case against four EFLU students. Assistant Professor Y. Suresh Babu accused them of preventing him from leaving the university administrative block, resulting in an FIR under sections 342 and 506 of the IPC and Section 92(a) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

On November 6, 2023, EFLU students intensified their protest by initiating a peaceful hunger strike and boycotting classes. They called for the reconstruction of the Sensitisation, Prevention, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment committee and demanded student body elections. The Osmania University police responded by registering an FIR under section 188 of the IPC against 31 University of Hyderabad students, who expressed their solidarity while participating in protest and detaining 14 students from EFLU and the National Students Union of India (NSUI) for alleged disobedience of public servant orders.

The Right to protest is recognised under several international instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 8), Article 5 (a) of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 states that “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to meet or assemble peacefully”. Women defenders often face more risks when participating in collective public action because of perceptions of the traditional role of women in some societies, and they become targets of non-state actors (A/61/312, para. 72)

HRDA India strongly believes that the use of brutal force on student activists, detention of students and registration of FIRs is an act of reprisal for their activism. Therefore, we urges the NHRC to take following actions-

  • To intervene in the relevant trial and high court to quash the FIRs registered against student activists in accordance with the Article 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993.
  • To direct the Director General of Investigation of the NHRC to initiate a transparent, independent inquiry into the illegal detention of students and submit the report to NHRC within two weeks.

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